It was February, 1958. I was attending Bancroft junior high school in Hollywood, California. A local TV station, KTLA, had a late-night horror show which featured the Universal monsters. It was hosted by an old character actress, Ottola Nesmith, and one night, she was seen reading a magazine. It was the first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. I had to have that magazine. I had several friends who shared my enthusiasm for horror movies and literature, sci-fi, etc. and one of them told me he could pick one up for me at the newsstand near his house. He delivered it to me, as we stood at the far end of the yard, in a brown paper bag -- a crumpled brown paper bag. From under his jacket to under mine.
It was full of wonders. And puns. And from the very first reading of that first issue, I felt I knew Forry Ackerman. I bought every issue for years. In the 70s, I learned that copies of FM number one were going for thousands of dollars. I still had mine. I found it and discovered I had clipped some photos out to paste on my wall.
By that time, I had known Forry Ackerman for quite a while. The first time I remember speaking to him was in 1966. My uncle, the actor Wallace Ford, had died. I don't remember how I came by Forry's phone number but it wasn't hard. I called him and told him Wally had died, which he knew, and that I hoped FM could say a little something about him. Well, Forry ran a lovely article called "Farewell to Ford" which talked about my uncle's appearances in "Freaks," "the Mummy's Tomb," and "the Ape Man," among others. The article mentioned the phone call from the nephew.
In 1974, Forry called me to say that some guys from UCLA were doing a Sunday morning show called "the Collectors" and that he had suggested me as a guest. He gave me a number to call and I made an appointment for the producers to come by and look at my Houdini collection. I had packed it away in 1967 before I went to Vietnam. It was a Sunday morning when they came by and I had unpacked everything and spread it around a couple of rooms. I was amazed at the kind of collecting I had done. After I'd returned from Vietnam, I was disconnected from my pre-Vietnam life. That morning, I got reacquainted with Houdini.
So, these guys showed up and we looked at my Houdini material and they enthusiastically decided to do the show. One of them asked me, "when was Houdini born?" I told him March 24, 1874. Then it hit me and I added, "100 years ago today."
I knew Forry over the years and he helped me several times. He owned the only copy that I knew about of a very early issue of Weird Tales magazine which featured a short story by Houdini. Forry let me shoot slides of each page which I later projected onto the wall near my desk and copied out for my book "Houdini's Strange Tales."
My son, Kieran, is 17 now and I'm so glad that he got to visit the Ackermansion.
He lived so long and survived so much that I thought Forry might never die. Now, I realize that he was and is a spirit and he never will die.